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You Don’t Have Sleep Apnea (But You May Have UARS)

Not getting a proper night’s sleep is a problem that’s too big for even coffee or energy drinks.

Poor sleep has long-term impacts on your life and health, and the consequences can be serious. Sleep medicine is evolving as healthcare professionals learn more about the effects that poor sleep can have on your body.

Why hasn’t my doctor diagnosed me with sleep apnea even though I have the symptoms?

Having some symptoms of sleep apnea doesn’t mean you have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when your breathing is interrupted during sleep by something blocking your airway – usually the soft tissue in your throat. However, if you wake up too quickly from those blockages, it may not actually be sleep apnea – it could be upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS).”

How is UARS different from sleep apnea?

The scale used to indicate the severity of sleep apnea is called the apnea hypopnea index, or AHI for short. If your number on that scale is less than five, sleep doctors may not diagnose you with sleep apnea. This is because the symptoms such as severe fatigue can also be caused by other conditions, such as:

  • Hormonal (pre-menstrual or menopause)
  • Neurologic (multiple sclerosis)
  • Infectious (Lyme disease or mononucleosis)
  • Rheumatologic (chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia)
  • Food/environmental allergies or deficiencies
  • Mold sensitivities

Treating UARS can be more difficult than treating sleep apnea. If you and your doctor choose to treat your UARS with continuous positive airway pressure (better known as a CPAP machine) or a dental appliance that pushes your tongue forward, your insurance may not cover it if your AHI is less than five.

On top of that, UARS can cause nasal congestion. This is because having a small mouth with dental crowding makes your nasal passageways smaller. Smaller nasal passageways can lead to a deviated nasal septum, enlarged or over-reactive turbinates, or flimsy nostrils. This can prevent you from being able to use dental appliances, including a CPAP machine.

How to treat UARS

UARS develops when smaller than normal jaw structures lead to narrowed airways and severe breathing problems in your sleep. The most efficient solutions involve using devices or surgery. There are a few instances in which the symptoms can be relieved with a pill, but those are rare.

If you have any pre-existing conditions, including obstructive sleep apnea, it is possible to also develop UARS. In these cases, the chances of any other conditions being further aggravated are high.

The most common symptoms of UARS are:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion (not just sleepiness)
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Headaches
  • Nasal congestion
  • TMJ problems
  • Cold hands/feet
  • Low blood pressure
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or bloating and frequent nighttime urination
  • Hyperthyroidism

You may have certain physical features that can indicate you have UARS, such as a high arched hard palate, narrow dental arches, crooked teeth, bite problems, head forward posture, and a relatively large tongue due to a small mouth.

If you think you may have UARS, your next step should be to find a sleep physician.

If you have any questions about sleep apnea or how a lack of sleep can affect your health, reach out to Dr. Andrea Stevens today.

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